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MadFriars' Interview: Lance Burkhart

LAKE ELSINORE - This season the Lake Elsinore Storm has had some of the top talent in the Padres’ organization led by number one prospect Javier Guerra and maybe the best second baseman in the entire system in Luis Urias, who at only 19 is leading the Cal League in hitting.

They were joined in midseason by center fielder Michael Gettys, who brings his own set of unique skills and tools to add to a potential backlog of talent at that position with Travis Jankowski on the big club, top prospect Marcel Margot in Triple-A El Paso, a remerging prospect in Franchy Cordero in Double-a San Antonio.  The interesting part is Gettys may have a higher ceiling than any of them.

While Guerra, has had a disappointing year at the plate, third/second baseman Josh VanMeter, who was recently promoted to San Antonio, has solidified his prospect status was leading the team in extra-base hits and walks before being sent up.  

On the mound Dinelson Lamet was the best pitcher to begin the year, but was moved up to the Missions in mid-June along have fellow starter Walker Lockett and relievers Brad Wieck and Trey Wingenter.

They still have a good staff in starters Enyel De Los Santos and Chris Huffman and relievers Cody Blueberg and Phil Maton; with Maton probably being the first of the 2015 drat class to reach the big club.  

We caught up with Storm manager Lance Burkhart, who began the year as Fort Wayne’s batting coach but took over the club when Francisco Morales resigned, to talk about some of the prospects at the Diamond this summer.

You had Michael Gettys last year when you were the hitting coach for Fort Wayne.  What is the biggest improvement that you have seen in him this year?

LANCE BURKHART: Controlling the strike zone.  He’s not chasing as many pitches down or up in the zone; but it is also an ongoing process.  He’s getting better, and we are happy with his progress, but Michael and I know he’s got a ways to go and he’s working everyday to get there.

So much attention is focused on his offensive game, how is he in centerfield?

LANCE BURKHART:  He’s a very good outfielder.  He has great instincts but for me the separator is that he can really go and get the ball and he will run over or through a fence to get it. 

Everyone one who sees second baseman Luis Urias talks about his unique ability to barrel up the baseball.  Is that what you see too?

LANCE BURKHART: He can put the barrel on the ball when it is in the strike zone and he lays off pitches that aren’t in the zone.  If you can do that, you are going to hit.  He has that ability to not only recognize what pitches are in the zone, but to hit them as well.  It’s not really a skill that is taught, it’s God-given.

How is he defensively?

LANCE BURKHART: He’s good.  Luis can make all the routine plays, has good instincts, good body control and he has a shortstop’s arm while playing second base.  He reads the ball off of the bat really well.

Third baseman Josh VanMeter has had a good year, particularly with his power numbers.  Any reason why?

LANCE BURKHART: Some of these guys wonder where the power comes from and I always believe it is just from a good swing and good extension. Most of these guys are strong enough to hit for power it is just about consistency of the swing path.  If you square them up they are going to go and that is what Josh has been doing this year.

Javier Guerra has had a tough year at the plate, but he has a lot of tools.  What have you seen this year?

LANCE BURKHART: Defensively he makes plays that you just don’t see a lot of other shortstops make; very athletic plays because he can get to so many balls. He has a really plus arm. Offensively he struggled early and got in the tank, but I think it will come later.  

Defense is what we are really stressing, and he’s done that.  The offensive ability is there, we just have to get it t out of him.

Phil Maton has been very good at both Fort Wayne and here.  What makes him so effective?

LANCE BURKHART: He pounds the zone and comes right at guys.  He has a good fastball and a good secondary breaking ball that he can throw for strikes.  Because he can throw both for strikes there is enough speed differential and different plane differential that he is going to be very effective.  

He has the velocity to get by guys and then the change of speeds to change the eye level; it’s really tough to hit.

Chris Huffman has thrown a lot of innings this year and did so last season in Fort Wayne.  What makes him so effective?

LANCE BURKHART: He can put the fastball where he wants to and has the ability to keep the ball down.  He hit a little bump after the All-Star break, but he came back.  Again, the big thing that makes him so effective is his fastball command to all four corners of the plate.

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